Mariner East 2 Pipeline Spills in Pennsylvania are Really Serious

by Duane Nichols on August 1, 2017

Mariner East 2 Pipeline from WV to Delaware River

Mariner East 2 Drilling Fluid Spills – Updated Map and Analysis

From an Article by Kirk Jalbert, PhD, MFA, July 26, 2017

ME2 pipeline and spills map by Kirk JalbertLast week, a judge with the PA Environmental Hearing Board granted a two week halt to horizontal directional drilling (HDD) operations pertaining to the construction of Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East 2 (ME2) pipeline. The temporary injunction responds to a petition from the Clean Air Council, Mountain Watershed Association, and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. It remains in effect until a full hearing on the petition occurs on August 7-9, 2017.

ME2 is a 350-mile long pipeline that, when complete, will carry 275,000 barrels of propane, ethane, butane, and other hydrocarbons per day from the shale gas fields of Western Pennsylvania to a petrochemical export terminal located on the Delaware River.

The petition relates to a complaint filed by the three groups detailing as many as 90 “inadvertent returns” (IRs) of drilling fluids and other drilling related spills along ME2’s construction route. IRs refer to incidents that occur during HDD operations in which drilling fluids consisting of water, bentonite clay, and some chemical mixtures used to lubricate the drill bit, come to the surface in unintended places. This can occur due to misdirected drilling, unanticipated underground fissures, or equipment failure.

What is Horizontal Directional Drilling?

An illustration of an “ideal” horizontal directional drilling boring operation is seen in the first graphic below (image source). The second image shows what happens when HDDs go wrong (image source).

Mapping Inadvertent Returns

me2_ir_legendThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) posted information on potential regulatory violations associated with these IRs on the PA Pipeline Portal website on July 24, 2017. This original file listed 49 spill locations. Our original map was based on those locations. As part of their legal filing, volunteer at the Clean Air Council (CAC) have parsed through DEP documents to discover 90 unique spills at these and other locations. On July 31, 2017, the DEP posted a new file that now lists 61 spill locations, which account for some of these discrepancies but not all.

Working with the CAC, we have created a map, seen below, of the 90 known IRs listed in the DEP documents and from CAC’s findings. Also on the map are the locations of all of ME2’s HDD boring locations, pumping stations, and workspaces, as well as all the streams, ponds, and wetlands listed in Sunoco’s permits as implicated in the project’s construction (see our prior article on ME2’s watershed implications here). Open the map full-screen to see many of these features and their more detailed information.

View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Analysis Results for ME2

From our analysis, we find that, conservatively, more than 202,000 gallons of drilling fluids have been accidentally released while constructing the Mariner East 2 pipeline in Pennsylvania since the first documented incident on May 3rd. We say conservatively because a number of incidents are still under investigation. In a few instances we may never know the full volume of the spills as only a fraction of the total drilling muds lost were recovered. A full breakdown by county and known gallons spilled is seen below.

A few important notes on our methods and the available data we have to work with:

CAC obtained spill locations from DEP incident reports, inadvertent return reports, and other documents describing spills of drilling fluid that have occurred during Mariner East 2 construction. Those documents reflected incidents occurring between April 25, 2017 and June 17, 2017. In reviewing these documents, volunteers identified 61 discrete spills of drilling fluid, many of which happened at the same or similar locations. Unfortunately, separate coordinates and volumes were not provided for each spill.
When coordinates were not provided, approximate locations of spills were assigned where appropriate, based on descriptions in the documentation. Two IRs have no known location information whatsoever. As such, they are not represented on the map.
Spill volumes were reported as ranges when there was inconsistency in documentation regarding the same spill. The map circles represent the high-end estimates within these ranges. Of the 90 known spills, 29 have no volume data. These are represented on the map, but with a volume estimate of zero until more information is available.

All documentation available to CAC regarding these spills was filed with the Environmental Hearing Board on July 19, 2017. DEP subsequently posted a table of inadvertent returns on its website on July 24, 2017. Some of those spills were the same as ones already identified in documents CAC had reviewed, but 29 of the spills described on the DEP website were ones for which CCAC had never received documentation, although a subset of these are now listed in brief in the DEP spreadsheet posted on July 31, 2017. In total then, the documentation provided to CAC from DEP and spreadsheets on the DEP website describe at least 90 spills.

HDD Implications

The DEP’s press release assures the public that the drilling fluids are non-toxic and the IRs are “not expected to have any lasting effects on impacted waters of the commonwealth.” But this is not entirely the case. While the fluids themselves are not necessarily a public health threat, the release of drilling fluids into aquifers and drinking wells can make water unusable. This occurred in June in Chester County, for example.

More commonly, drilling fluid sediment in waterways can kill aquatic life due to the fine particulates associated with bentonite clay. Given that HDD is primarily used to lay pipe under streams, rivers, and ponds (as well as roads, parks, and other sensitive areas), this latter risk is a real concern. Such incidents have occurred in many of the instances cited in the DEP documents, including a release of drilling muds into a creek in Delaware County in May.

We hope the above map and summaries provide insights into the current risks associated with the project and levels of appropriate regulatory oversight, as well as for understanding the impacts associated with HDD, as it is often considered a benign aspect of pipeline construction.

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Mariner East 2 October 26, 2017 at 9:56 am

Soil removed as fallout from W. Cornwall pipeline incident continues

>>> From Daniel Walmer, Lebanon (PA) Daily News, October 25, 2017

Local organic farmer Phi Stober, who is running for West Cornwall Township Supervisor, explains why he finds the recent problems with pipeline construction so concerning.

Soil in the area of a West Cornwall Township blasting incident that may have impacted a well tested negative for contaminants but is being removed from the area, township supervisors announced at a meeting Monday.

West Cornwall Township officials announced in early October that on Sept. 11, a blasting subcontractor working on construction of the Mariner East natural gas liquids pipeline across the road from a 22 Spangler Road farm had complications during a detonation. After excavating the blast site, a sheen of “some unknown product” was discovered and well and groundwater tests found unusually high levels of benzene, which can increase cancer risks over long-term exposure.

A Sunoco contractor began providing bottled water at 22 Spangler Road and treating water on the farm, officials had said.

Background: Well tests positive for contaminants after pipeline construction blast in W. Cornwall

The supervisors have since learned that two soil analyses taken from the site on Sept. 13 and Sept. 21 did not detect any contaminants, according to information supervisor David Lloyd provided to the Lebanon Daily News. However, Sunoco agreed as a precaution to remove soil from the excavation ditch, transport it offsite, and replace it with clean fill from offsite.

Sunoco also agreed to install three test wells adjacent to the pipeline in that area to continue to monitor water quality in the area, Lloyd said.

The situation involving the water supply for residents of 22 Spangler Road has not yet been resolved as discussions continue between Sunoco and the residents, he said. There are also continued discussions about a “medical review” of the residents there to determine whether their health could have been negatively impacted in any way due to drinking contaminated water, Lloyd said.

When complete, the Mariner East 2 pipeline will transport natural gas liquids from Marcellus Shale-rich areas of western Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia to the Marcus Hook refinery south of Philadelphia, on the Delaware River.



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